A Great Leader

I have written before about great leaders and bosses I have witnessed or read about. Not that I am an expert, but the following opinions about leadership resonate with me.

A great leader…

deflects credit to others and does not take credit when it is not deserved.
– reaches out to others for their thoughts, even if it is to validate a preconceived notion.
encourages communication with those up, down and across the organization.
– recognizes the best ideas to improve sales, performance, safety or efficiency come from those closest to the action.
empowers his or her people to do the jobs they have been hired to do.
– admits mistakes and seeks to remedy them, not cover them up.
encourages people to share their concerns with him or her and not look for people to agree with everything he or she says or does.
– creates a culture of doing the right thing and shows little tolerance for cheating the system.
establishes BHAGs or Big Hairy Audacious Goals, which show a path forward. *
– treats people fairly and consistently.

Please note I did not indicate any personality style. Great leaders can be introverted, as an increasing number of CEOs are, of they could be extroverted. Yet, we often mistake the ability to tell a story with someone who can actually lead.

Finally, great leaders are not perfect. Seeing how they react to business or personal failure is key. Do they blame others or accept the failure? The is the best window into how the person will lead.

* From the book “Built to Last” which reviews why companies are successful over time.

19 thoughts on “A Great Leader

    • Good question. They tend not to slap themselves on the back. I did a piece on how Paul O’Neill turned Alcoa around by doing many of these things. In fact, he was ridiculed after his first press conference when he said he wanted to make Alcoa the safest place in the world to work. He did that as he knew that was the only thing he could get management and labor to agree on. And, then communication got better, ideas were bubbled up, processes and product were improved and they made more profit.

      I have seen some leaders up close who did those things as clients of mine. I also had some clients whose CEOs were greedy bastards. Their companies were eventually bought and they made huge severance and went away. I do have a favorite story about one of these guys. The only thing he had to do to get his severance was complete his expense reports as he “consulted” with his former, now merged company. After six months of noncompliance, the new CEO said to cease his severance until he sent his expense reports. The six months of reports arrived in a week.

    • Kim, thanks. These are my opinions, so they may or may not be right. I am glad someone with your perspective agrees with me. I feel I am on better footing. Thanks, Keith

    • Many thanks. A couple come to mind. By the way, we just came back from the movie “Race” about Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics. The bigotry and xenophobia reminded me of some of those candidates.

  1. Note to Readers: I was going to add some implied traits above. One is recognizing how much of the success is team oriented. The other is to make sure people are recognized for their contributions, whether it is financially or just thank you notes. A friend of mine got two holiday cards from a client. His main contact sent him a pre-typed card, while the CEO handwrote a note. It speaks volumes that the CEO took the time to write a nice note.

  2. Hey Keith, I think a contrast and compare study between Wall Street CEO’s and Silicon Top Kicks would be interesting, and the two best leaders I worked with, a male and a woman , both described themselves as ambiverts. And that ” Paul O’Neill” you referenced in a response is former Sec of the $$$$…right? I’ve wondered how he would have differed from the hair on fire Paulson in the 07/08 meltdown.

    Regards…oh…a novel getting some ink which might be of interest…..Fixers by MICHAEL M. THOMAS http://www.mhpbooks.com/books/fixers/


    • Doug, that would be a good comparison. Some folks have used Steve Jobs as the antithesis to what I wrote here and before. He was a jerk to work for and did only a few of things I noted. Yet, he was a visionary and leading cutting edge stuff, so people tolerated his shortcomings, although many left. I often say if you are going to be a jerk as a leader, you better be damn good. If you are not, people won’t put up with your BS for long.

      That is the same Paul O’Neill. Dick Cheney fired him for disagreeing with Bush about the infamous tax cuts, which O’Neill said we did not need and would hurt the deficit. Guess who was right. Ironically, the first Bush wanted to hire O’Neill as his Secretary of Defense, but he turned it down and recommended, Dick Cheney. Nice thank you from Cheney to fire him later.

      Thanks for the book recommendation. I will check it out. Keith

  3. I’ve had the pleasure of working for/with a few great leaders. The reason they were so well received…they listened.
    The certain someone, in a certain lead out there, is the polar opposite of a leader. You don’t lead by shining a light on the negative.

    • Lisa, you are so right on both counts. As for the latter, when you have to brag on yourself that much and put every one down at the same time, should that not be an indication that you may be a poor leader? Saying it a different way, would you work for a jerk like that? Thanks, Keith

  4. Note to Readers: I have written before how organizations take on the personality of their leaders. As an example, a business unit in a major organization had a leader who was cantankerous and belligerent. His direct reports felt it gave them license to bully others as well. His group, which included IT, got very low marks on customer satisfaction from internal surveys. It seemed every issue was a hassle. Eventually, the company was sold as they did not grow fast enough. Part of the issue was their technology was not an enabler to growth.

  5. Note to Readers: The following greedy SOBs would not be mistaken for great leaders:
    – the wives of the CEO and COO used to fight over the corporate chauffeur and body guard; of course the problem was solved when the company added a second driver and car.
    – I had a boss who liked to host the year-end holiday party, so he could order two of everything on the company dole and stock his liquor cabinet.
    – another CEO used to expense light bulbs for his corporate apartment; this is small, but I found this to be cheap.
    – the Board of Directors of one company was renowned for not getting on an airplane to fly to the Board meeting; the reason is the company would fly its jet to go pick them up at company expense.
    – when my boss was explaining a potential new benefit for employees, the CEO got flustered; he stopped him and asked “what’s in it for me?”
    – perhaps my favorite greedy story is the CEO of one company invited numerous clients to his daughter’s wedding, so he could expense as a business expense.

    I am sad to report that each of these stories is true. This is why stories of great leaders and bosses resonate with folks, as there are too many of these stories.

    • Amaya, bad bosses are not uncommon. I am sorry you got one now. Maybe you can write that sitcom. I have always found Steve Carell’s The Office boss over the top, so there is a need for a truer lampoon. Thanks for writing, Keith

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